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In Fury Born: Chapter Seven

       Last updated: Thursday, November 24, 2005 22:41 EST



    Serafina Palacios was in the middle of a conference with her company commanders when the com on her desk beeped softly.

    "Just a second, Kevin." She raised one hand in Captain Trammell's direction, then activated the com implant in her mastoid instead of walking across to her desk.

    "Palacios," she said. She listened for a moment, and Trammell and the other company COs watched with casual curiosity—which became abruptly uncasual as she stiffened suddenly in her chair.

    "Repeat that!" she said sharply, then shook her head as if the person at the other end of the com link could actually see her disbelief. "And then?" she prompted. She listened again, then said, "They did what?"

    "No," she said after moment. "No, I believe you. I only wish I didn't. All right. This is going to turn into the mother of all clusterfucks, and it's going to do it fast. I've got all the company commanders right here. I'll pass the heads-up to them and get them back to their companies ASAP. In the meantime, get all of our people stood to. Transmit the Blockhouse alert now—my authority."

    The five captains sitting in her office looked at one another. Then they looked back at her, as her eyes refocused on them.

    "I take it you heard," she said in a desert-dry tone.

    "Blockhouse, Ma'am?" Trammell asked for all of them, and she nodded grimly.

    "Our esteemed militia colleagues have just screwed the pooch by the numbers." Her tone was no longer dry; it was harsh, biting. "Not that they didn't have help. It would appear that Governor Aubert's invitation to Mr. Pankarma wasn't issued in good faith after all."

    "Jesus," somebody muttered, and Trammell pursed his lips in a silent whistle.

    "That's right," Palacios said. "When Pankarma and his delegation arrived at the Annapurna Arms, Brigadier Jongdomba had Colonel Sharwa waiting to arrest them in the name of the planetary government."

    "After they promised safe conduct?" Trammell sounded like a man who very much wanted to disbelieve what he was hearing.

    "Ah, but they didn't," Palacios said bitingly. Trammell and the others just looked at her, and she laughed harshly. "Governor Aubert promised them safe conduct, not President Shangup. And, if you'll notice, the military forces directly answerable to the Governor as His Majesty's direct representative—that's us, by the way—had nothing to do with the arrest attempt."

    "And who's going to believe Shangup and Jongdomba would even have dreamed of doing something like this without Aubert's approval?" Captain Adriana Becker, Bravo Company's CO, demanded incredulously. But Kevin Trammell had zeroed in on another part of Palacios' terse explanation.

    "You said 'attempt,' Skipper," he said. "Please tell me they at least managed to pull it off."

    "No, they didn't." Palacios shook her head, her expression equally disgusted and apprehensive. "Apparently the GLF wasn't quite as trusting as Governor Aubert—excuse me, as President Shangup—hoped. They had a strike force of their own ready, and they must've been tapped into the militia's com net. They came crashing in while the militia were still trying to take Pankarma's party into custody."

    "How bad was it, Ma'am?" Captain Schapiro asked softly.

    "We don't have much in the way of details yet, Chaim," Palacios told Delta Company's commander. "What we do have, though, sounds pretty damned bad. Apparently, the GLF punched out an entire militia squad on its way in—no survivors. Then they shot their way through another couple of squads to pull Pankarma out. But about the time they got there, the idiots who'd been trying to arrest Pankarma in the first place, seem to have opened fire themselves. According to the preliminary reports, they killed a half-dozen or more of their own people with friendly fire. They also killed at least half of the GLF delegation . . . including Pankarma."

    "My God." Captain Kostatina Diomedes shook her head, her face ashen. "The GLF will go up like an old-fashioned nuke!"

    "And a good chunk of the rest of the planet will be right behind them," Palacios agreed grimly. Then she shook herself. "All right. All of you know everything that I know at this point. Get back to your companies—now. I'll pass everything else I get to you the instant I have it. Now go, People."

    She watched her subordinates gather up their computer chips and memo pads and head for the door. Most of them went straight through it at something between a brisk jog and a run, but Trammell paused in the doorway and looked back at her.

    "Yes, Kevin?" she said.

    "Boss," he said quietly, "you went to Blockhouse on your own authority."

    "Yes, I did," she said flatly. Then she inhaled and gave her head in a little toss. "Sorry, Kevin. I know what you meant. But there's no time to clear it with Aubert ahead of time—assuming that asshole Salgado would even let me talk to him in the first place! Besides, this whole fucking mess is the result of their brainstorm, and it's obvious they went to considerable lengths to lay the blame off on the militia and Shangup if anything went wrong."

    "But, still —" Trammell began.

    "No." She cut him off with a sharp shake of her head. "I know what you're going to say, and I can't risk it. Right this minute, they're probably in a state of shock over there. And you know as well as I do that the only thing they're going to be thinking about right now is how to save their own asses. Their first instinct is going to be to try to keep their heads down and let someone else—anyone else—take the fall. Which means they're going to be busy trying to shove all of this off on Jongdomba, too. And Jongdomba couldn't organize a bottle party in a distillery on this kind of notice. Or do you actually think he had a contingency plan in place for something like this? Because, if you do, I've got some nice beachfront property in the Sahara I'd like to sell you!"

    Trammell opened his mouth in fresh protest, then closed it. For just a moment he was deeply, selfishly—and guiltily—grateful that he wasn't in command of the battalion.

    "No, Ma'am," he said. "I don't think the militia ever even heard of contingency planning. But going to Blockhouse without the Governor's authorization is going to raise a shitstorm. If anything—anything at all—goes wrong, Aubert's going to try to hang you for it."

    "My mother always told me that the real test of anyone's character was the enemies they made," Palacios said with a cold smile. "I'll take my chances, Kevin. Now, go."

    "Yes, Ma'am." Trammell surprised them both by coming briefly to attention and saluting formally. Then he obeyed her order and vanished.



    Captain Karsang Dawa Chiawa stood in the corpse-littered hallway and stared about him in shock.

    This wasn't supposed to happen, his brain told him numbly. They were supposed to surrender! 

    But they hadn't.

    "Sir." He looked up dully from the contorted bodies and the death-stench of ruptured organs and blood. Somehow, he thought distantly, it was the smells, far more than the sights, which were going to live in his nightmares.

    "Yes?" he said.

    "Sir," his com tech resolutely looked away from the bodies himself as he held out a handset, "Colonel Sharwa wants to speak to you."

    Oh, I'll just bet he does, Chiawa thought bitterly, but he only nodded and held out his own hand.

    "Chiawa here, Colonel," he said into the handset.

    "Chiawa, you fucking idiot!" Sharwa bellowed into his ear. "What the hell did you think you were doing?!"

    "Colonel, I —" Chiawa began, without much hope that he'd be allowed to finish the sentence.

    "Shut the fuck up!" Sharwa shouted. "I don't want to hear any goddamned excuses! It was a simple enough mission, and now, thanks to your fuckup, God only knows what's going to happen!"

    Chiawa shut his mouth and gritted his teeth while the com rattled against his ear.

    "Just how bad is it?" the colonel continued.

    "Sir, I've lost at least thirty men," Chiawa said harshly. "They ambushed my outer security squad—apparently they had their own armed people mixed in with the newsies." The newsies which you specifically told me we couldn't bar from the hotel approaches without "giving away the game," he thought bitterly. "Then at least another twenty or thirty of their people shot their way into the hotel. I lost more of my people on their way in, and several members of the hotel staff were killed or wounded in the crossfire. And —" he drew a deep breath "— Pankarma's group hadn't surrendered when the shooting started outside. I'm not sure exactly what happened. According to one of my people, one of the GLF delegates produced a pistol. I don't know if that's true. If it is, I haven't seen the gun yet. But whatever happened, my people opened fire."

    "You mean —?" Sharwa seemed unable to complete the question, and Chiawa's lips twitched in a humorless smile.

    "I mean Pankarma himself is dead, Sir," he said flatly. "At least half his 'delegation' is also dead."

    "But you have the others in custody," Sharwa said.

    "No, Sir. I don't." Chiawa turned, looking away from the bodies and the puddles and pools of gummy blood. "The gunmen coming in from the outside shot their way through to the 'delegation' too quickly for that. As far as I know, they got all of the survivors—some of whom may have been wounded—out with them."

    "Shit!" Sharwa exploded. "Couldn't you do any fucking thing right? Now the bastards know their precious leader is dead, or at least wounded, and we don't have a single goddamned bargaining chip!"

    "Sir, when this operation was planned, I was assured that —"

    "Shut up! Just shut the fuck back up!"

    "Sir," Chiawa continued, despite the order, "however we got here, the situation is coming completely apart. We need more —"

    "I told you to shut your trap, Captain." Sharwa's voice was suddenly icy. "Of course you want more men. And just what in your brilliant handling of the situation to date suggest to you that I'd trust you with a den of Cub Scouts? If I give you more men, you'll just make this disaster even worse!"

    "Sir, we've got to get a mobilization order out before —" Chiawa began, then looked up as Lieutenant Nawa came running into the hallway.

    "We've got trouble out front!" Nawa was breathing hard, his eyes wide. "The crowd's getting ugly. They're starting to throw bricks and paving stones. And they're demanding to see Pankarma—now."

    Chiawa closed his eyes. Then he opened them again, held up one hand at Nawa in a "wait" gesture, and drew a deep breath.

    "Colonel," he said into the handset, interrupting a further tirade. "The mob —" he used the noun deliberately, hoping it might break through to Sharwa "—outside the hotel is turning violent. And it's demanding to see Pankarma."

    "And what the hell do you expect me to do about that?" Sharwa demanded. "You're the genius who killed the bastard! If the mob is gathering, disperse it!"

    "Sir, I don't know if that's the best approach," Chiawa began. "If we —"

    "Goddamn it, Chiawa! Get some people out there and get those sons-of-bitches under control! I don't care how you do it, Captain, but you damned well better do it now!"

    Chiawa lowered the handset and looked back at Nawa.

    "Take your platoon," he began, then stopped. Sergeant Lakshindo's squad had been from Nawa's platoon. Emotions would probably be running high among their platoonmates, and Nawa would be understrength without Lakshindo, anyway.

    "Tell Salaka to take his platoon out there. Tell him I want those people dispersed."

    "Yes, Sir!" Nawa began to turn away, but Chiawa's left hand shut out and grabbed his equipment harness.

    "I want them dispersed," he repeated in a lower voice, simultaneously pressing the com handset against his thigh with his right hand to muffle the microphone, "but I don't want any more escalation if we can avoid it. You tell Salaka that no one fires a shot, except in direct self-defense. If he can't move them back without that, he's to tell me so and get my direct, personal authorization before he opens fire. Clear?"

    "Yes, Sir!" Nawa repeated.

    "Then go!" Chiawa released Nawa's harness and watched the lieutenant disappear. Then he raised the handset once more.

    "I'm sending troops out, now, Colonel," he said. "With your permission, I'd like to go take personal charge of that and —"

    "I'll just bet you would, Captain!" Sharwa snarled. "Unfortunately, I'm not quite done with you yet. In fact —"



    Lieutenant Tsimbuti Pemba Salaka drew a deep breath and looked at his platoon sergeant.

    "All right," he said. "Let's get this done."

    Sergeant Garza nodded, but his expression was less than confident. Salaka didn't blame him. The lieutenant had tried to project as much confidence as he could, but he knew he'd failed. This was not the sort of situation he'd envisioned in his worst nightmares when he'd decided to join the planetary militia.

    He gave the taut-faced men behind him one more glance, then hefted his bullhorn and started towards the shattered glass doors.

    The luxury hotel's palatial main lobby was a shambles. Huge shards of broken glass glittered in the patches of blood which showed where the GLF gunmen had shot their way in. The hurled bricks, paving stones, and beer bottles which had produced most of the breakage lay amid the rubble like curses, and the snarling sea of voices from the furious mob was like the sound of some huge, hungry beast.

    Something else came flying in through one of the demolished glass walls. It hit the floor and shattered, and a gout of smoking flame erupted from the crude Molotov cocktail. The hotel's sprinkler system activated almost immediately, and Salaka and his platoon found themselves advancing through a pounding downpour.

    Just what we needed, the lieutenant thought. He swallowed again and again, fighting the useless urge to wipe his sweating palms on his breastplate.

    Another Molotov cocktail crashed into the lobby, sputtering flame, and two or three of his people flinched.

    "Steady!" he said, wishing his own voice sounded less tentative, less frightened. "Steady!"

    We need riot police, not militia, he thought. Why didn't they deploy riot cops to handle the outside security in the first place? 

    Then he was at the doors, and he drew another deep breath and stepped out of them, wishing he had something considerably more lethal, or at least intimidating, than a bullhorn in his hand.

    The mob voice surged suddenly higher at the sight of his men and their uniforms. He could actually feel the hatred pulsing behind that deep, harsh, snarling sound, and a bewildered part of him wondered where it had come from. The militia had only wanted to arrest a batch of self-proclaimed criminals. The vast majority of Gyangtse's people condemned the GLF—that was what all the militia's intelligence briefings, all of the editorialists, had been saying for years! They should have wanted to see Pankarma and his people taken into custody. And surely they must understand that no one had wanted this sort of carnage—that it was the GLF's fault for coming in shooting this way!

    "Citizens!" he shouted, the bullhorn giving him sufficient volume to make himself heard even through the bellowing chaos. "Citizens, disperse at once! You are engaged in an illegal activity, and people—more people—are going to get hurt if this continues! We don't want any more injuries, so please —"

    Tsimbuti Pemba Salaka never heard the sound of the three shots. One round struck his breastplate and was deflected. The second struck his left arm, shattering his upper arm instantly.

    The third struck him almost exactly midway between his left eyebrow and the rim of his helmet, and his skull exploded under the impact.



    "—and after that, Captain, I'll personally see to it that you spend the next five or ten years in prison!" Sharwa raved in Chiawa's ear. The colonel was into full rant mode. Even at the moment, he had to know as well as Chiawa did that most of his threatened extravagant vengeance wasn't going to happen. Or maybe he did think it would. Maybe he was even right. Depending on how badly this turned out, the planetary government might just decide that one Captain Chiawa would make a suitable scapegoat for how all of his superiors had screwed up.

    Chiawa didn't know about that. He just knew there were things he needed to be doing besides standing here listening to this idiot scream in his ear. Unfortunately, the idiot in question had the rank to keep him standing here.

    And then Chiawa looked up from the handset as Nawa came charging back into the hallway.

    "Sir, Salaka's down and —!"

    The sudden crackle of rifle fire cut Nawa's report off. The outburst of fire was as brief as it was sudden, and then Chiawa heard the baying howl of hundreds of voices as the mob outside the Annapurna Arms charged the building.



    "— and I trust you have an explanation for your high-handed, illegal actions, Major!" Ákos Salgado snapped. His voice would have blistered battle steel, but the golden-haired woman in the Marine uniform on his communicator's display simply looked back at him calmly.

    "With all due respect, Mr. Salgado," she replied after moment, "any explanations are due to Governor Aubert, not you."

    "I'm the Governor's chief of staff. He's delegated the authority to get some sort of explanation for this idiocy out of you . . . and I'm still waiting for it.

    "Then you're going to have a lengthy wait, Mr. Salgado," she said coldly. "For an explanation of my 'high-handed, illegal actions,' I mean. Because, Sir, they were neither."

    "The hell they weren't!" Salgado glared at her. "You had no authority—none at all—to occupy the spaceport, or the city's water plant and power station, or to declare martial law here in the capital in His Majesty's name!"

    "Under Article 42 of the Imperial Articles of War, I have not merely the authority, but the responsibility, as the senior ranking military officer on this planet, to take any action I believe the situation requires in the absence of direction from competent superior authority," she said, and Salgado's face turned puce.

    "God damn it, the Governor is your superior authority!" he bellowed.

    "I'm aware of the legal chain of command, Mr. Salgado. However, I had no direction from the Governor—or even from you—of any sort, and at the critical moment—due, no doubt, to the confusion engendered by the sudden outbreak of violence—I was unable to contact either of you. And," she looked him straight in the eye, "since I've been unfortunately unable to contact Governor Aubert for quite lengthy periods on several occasions over the past few weeks, despite what you've assured me are your communications people's best efforts, it was apparent to me that I might not be able to reach him for some time. Under those circumstances, I felt I had no option but to take action immediately on my own responsibility."

    Salgado's teeth ground together. The bitch. The backbiting, conniving, rules-lawyering bitch! 

    He started to open his mouth for the verbal flaying she so amply deserved, but then he made himself stop. She was recording this. He knew she was, that she wanted him to say something she could play back for her own military superiors—or his superiors in the Ministry—to justify her own actions and hang him.

    Well, Ákos Salgado wasn't going to give her that particular soundbite.

    "You may have acted within the letter of your own authority, Major," he said icily. "You did so, however, without any consultation with or authorization by your civilian superiors. Given the current state of confusion and the heat of emotions on Gyangtse, your personal decision to resort to the iron fist approach may very well have elevated what would have been a minor, purely local matter into a direct confrontation with the authority of the Empire. Should that happen, I warn you, Governor Aubert and I will do everything in our power to see to it that you suffer the consequences you will so amply merit."

    "I'm sure you will, Mr. Salgado," she replied, her tone cool while contempt flared in her blue eyes. "Time, of course, will tell whether or not my actions were justified, won't it? And, speaking of time, I find myself rather pressed for it at the moment. Will there be anything else, Sir?"

    "No," he grated. "Not at this time, Major."

    "In that case, good bye," she said, and cut the circuit.



    "My, my," Gregory Hilton murmured as he and Alicia stood on the roof of the Zhikotse spaceport's northernmost shuttle pad and watched the dense columns of smoke rising above the Old Town. "That doesn't sound good, does it?"

    "That" was the staccato crackle of automatic weapons fire, interspersed with the occasional explosion of hand grenades, mortars, or chemical-explosive rockets. There were other sounds, as well. Sounds Alicia's sensory boosters could sort out of the general bedlam if she tried. The yammering surf of a howling mob, the wail of emergency vehicles' sirens, individual screams and shouts, and the clatter and roar of light armored vehicles.

    How? she wondered. How did it all happen so fast? 

    She didn't have an answer for that question. So far as she knew, no one did. And as she watched the smoke billow, heard the cacophony grinding steadily closer to the spaceport, she knew it really didn't matter. Not now. Perhaps it had once, and no doubt it would someday matter once more. But what mattered right this moment was dealing with it, not understanding it.

    "How long before they hit our perimeter, do you think, Greg?" she asked, and the calmness of her own voice astounded her. It seemed to belong to someone else, someone whose nerves weren't tied into knots and whose belly muscles weren't clenched.

    "Hard to say," Hilton replied after a moment. "They're obviously headed our way, and those militia sad sacks aren't going to stop them. Might slow them down a bit, I suppose." He frowned judiciously. "Of course, I imagine quite a few of our noble militiamen are busy finding new and compelling loyalties at the moment."

    "You really think many of them will go over to the other side?"

    "Don't sound so surprised, Larva." Hilton chuckled harshly. "First, it's pretty damned obvious from the remotes that the mob is gonna roll right over anything that gets in its way, and these poor militia pukes live here. They're going to be thinking about that, in between pissing themselves. They aren't gonna want to get rolled over, they don't have anyplace to go, and they aren't gonna want to kill a whole bunch of their friends and neighbors. Especially not if doing that won't stop the mob, anyway.

    "Second, I'd be real surprised if there weren't quite a few GLF sympathizers in the militia to begin with. They're going to go over to the other side in droves, and they're gonna take as many of their buddies with them as they can." He shrugged. "Frankly, in their shoes, I'd probably be thinking the same way. What're we gonna do about it later? Shoot 'em all? Especially if we can't prove what they were up to during the present . . . unpleasantness? Oh, a few of them might catch it in the neck, but even so, that's somewhere off in the future. They're thinking about right now."

    "Well, someone's still putting up a scrap," Alicia observed, waving a hand as a fresh wave of weapons fire chattered and thundered in the distance.

    "Yep." Hilton nodded. "There's gonna be some who stick it out all the way to the end. Some of 'em because, frankly, they're good troops, even if they are stuck in this useless militia. And like good troops everywhere, they're gonna be the ones who take the heavy losses while the rest of their sorry outfit packs up and bugs out behind them.

    "And some of them are gonna stick because they don't have anywhere else to go. You think maybe Jongdomba or Sharwa is gonna be especially welcome in the bosom of the Revolution?"

    "They can't possibly expect to win, not in the long term," Alicia murmured.

    "The mob? The GLF?" Hilton said. She looked at him, and he shrugged. "Alicia, this isn't—none of this is—what you might call a reasoned response." He waved one hand in the direction of the smoke and thunder and shook his head. "When Pankarma got his ass killed, 'reasoned' went right out the window. Neither side ever expected it, and neither side had any kind of plan in place in case it happened. And now the whole damned situation's completely out of control. No one's in charge of this, Alley. It's just happening, and by now it's feeding on itself. I've seen it before."

    "Well," Alicia said after a minute or so, "at least we managed to get most of our people inside the perimeter."

    "There's that," Hilton agreed. Then he sighed. Alicia looked at him, and he smiled sadly.

    "Think about what you just said," he told her quietly. "We've got 'most of our people' inside. Who are 'our people'? Just us off-worlders and our dependents? What about all the people here on Gyangtse who supported the Incorporation? The ones someone in that mob is going to know supported Incorporation? What happens to them? And, for that matter, what happens to the mob when it does hit our perimeter and finds out the difference between the local militia and the Imperial Marine Corps?"

    Alicia looked at him for a moment longer, then turned back towards the distant wall of smoke.

    Somehow, at that instant, that rising breath of destruction was far less frightening than the questions Gregory Hilton had just posed.



    "This is a frigging disaster," Ákos Salgado said bitterly as he strode into Governor Aubert's office. Aubert stood by the window, back to the door and hands clasped behind him, gazing out at the same smoke Alicia could see from her own position. "I warned Palacios that this knee-jerk, iron fist approach of hers can only make things worse, and the goddamned lunatic basically told me to go fuck myself! I swear to God, I'll see that bitch court-martialed if it's the last thing I —"

    "Ákos," Aubert said levelly, "shut up."

    Salgado's jaw dropped, and he stared at the Governor's back with the eyes of a beached fish. For at least three full seconds, that appeared to be all he was capable of doing. Then his mouth started to work again.

    "But . . . but . . ." he began.

    "I said," Aubert said, turning from the window to face him at last, "to shut up."

    Salgado closed his mouth, and Aubert walked across to seat himself behind his desk. Then he leaned back in his chair, his expression grim.

    "This isn't the result of any 'iron fist' on Major Palacios' part," he said flatly. "This is the result of our stupidity."

    "But —"

    "I'm not going to tell you again to keep your mouth shut." Aubert's voice was an icicle, and Salgado felt a sudden stab of very personal panic as he looked into his patron's eyes and suddenly read his own political future with perfect prescience.

    "Palacios has been trying to tell us for months that something like this was coming," Aubert continued. "I thought she was wrong. I thought she was an alarmist. I thought Jongdomba's so-called intelligence analysts knew the local situation better than she did. And, God help me, I thought you knew your ass from your elbow. I wish—you'll never know how much I wish that I could look in my mirror and tell myself this was all your fault. You're the one who's been manipulating my schedule to keep Palacios from bending my ear with her 'alarmism' and her 'paranoia.' You're the one who's been 'losing' messages from her to me. And you're the one who came up with this brilliant plan to arrest Pankarma. But the only problem with blaming it all on you, is that I knew exactly what you were doing when I let you do it. I even agreed with you, despite everything Palacios tried to tell me, which makes me just as big a fool as you. No, a bigger fool, one who kept his eyes closed in his fingers in his ears so I could go on ignoring all the warning signs. Kereku was completely correct in his reading of what's been happening here on Gyangtse, and he's twelve light-years from here. Which means, much as I hate to admit it, that he was also absolutely right to try and get my worthless ass fired."

    "Governor—Jasper," Salgado began desperately, "of course this is all a terrible —"

    "Get out," Aubert said almost calmly. Salgado goggled at him, and the Governor pointed at the office door. "I said, 'get out,' " he repeated. "As in get your stupid fucking face on the other side of that door, and out of my sight, and keep it there. Now."

    Ákos Salgado looked at him for another heartbeat, recognizing the utter and irretrievable ruin of his career. Then his shoulders sagged and he turned and walked blindly from the office.

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